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Ativan, just as other benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium, is a drug that is great…until it isn’t. While these medications are intended for short-term relief of anxiety or insomnia, the fact is that they are so effective that it becomes very hard for someone to discontinue their use. Once someone experiences a good night’s sleep via Ativan they will probably want to repeat that every night.
There is a reason why Ativan is not intended for long-term use. With the benzodiazepine class of drugs, the body quickly builds up tolerance to its sedating effects, which can lead someone to take a higher dose to recapture that early success. As dosing increases or becomes more frequent, the risk of developing a dependence on Ativan is increased. If dependence takes hold, the individual will experience unpleasant Ativan withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop taking the drug.
Detoxing from any benzodiazepine, including Ativan, should only be attempted under the care of a detox team. A benzodiazepine detox can cause serious, even life-threatening Ativan withdrawal symptoms, so this first step in recovery should be only undertaken with medical supervision.
What is Ativan?
Ativan (lorazepam) is a prescription medication that is routinely prescribed for the treatment of anxiety symptoms or insomnia. Approximately 28 million Ativan prescriptions are written in the U.S. annually, and Ativan is the second most popular benzodiazepine after Xanax. The drug works by affecting the brain chemical GABA, boosting its effects in the brain that results in a calm, relaxed feeling. Ativan works quickly, with its tranquil effects noticeable within 15 minutes. Ativan also causes mild euphoria, better quality of sleep, and reduces feelings of stress or worry.
If all that sounds too good to be true, well that is because it is. Ativan has negative effects that accompany long-term use or abuse of the drug. These include:
- Impaired decision-making
- Slurred speech
- Memory problems
- Poor judgment
- Skin irritation
- Coordination problems
- Slowed response time
- Change in personality
- Depressed respiratory rate
- Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop the Ativan
Dangers of Ativan Abuse
Unfortunately, Ativan has a high potential for abuse. Even taking the drug as prescribed for just 3-6 weeks can result in physical dependence. The risk of developing dependency to the drug is very real, which would cause a repeated cycle of Ativan withdrawals every time an attempt is made to stop using it. Because the withdrawal symptoms are so unpleasant, the individual is likely to return to the drug just to stop the withdrawal discomfort.
Ativan is a sedative, so when combining it with alcohol, another sedative, can lead to respiratory distress and even coma or death. Others may take large doses of Ativan in an attempt to experience a euphoric high, which can increase the risk of Ativan overdose. Symptoms of an overdose include:
- Excessive drowsiness
- Slowed reflexes
- Mental confusion
- Memory loss
- Slowed respiratory rate
- Slowed heart rate
- Blurry vision
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred speech
- Low blood pressure
- Uncontrolled eye movements
Signs of Ativan Dependence or Addiction
Because of the innate habit-forming properties of Ativan and other benzodiazepines, addiction and dependence rates are high. Individuals who take more Ativan than is prescribed, and take it more frequently or for a longer period than is prescribed, are at a higher risk of acquiring a serious problem with the drug.
There are several things that occur with extended Ativan misuse. Dopamine levels increase quickly in response to the presence of Ativan. Increased dopamine production offers the feel good effect that reinforces the brain’s reward system response and perpetuates the addiction. The brain is also impacted directly by Ativan abuse, with the structure and function of some receptors in the brain being altered.
There are some signs and symptoms that indicate that Ativan dependence or addiction has developed:
- Taking increasing amounts of Ativan
- Doctor shopping for more Ativan resources
- Frequent headaches
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite, anorexia
- Memory problems
- Mental confusion, cognitive issues
- Muscular stiffness
- Panic attacks
- Intense sweating
- Increased anxiety
- Poor physical coordination
- Blurred vision
- Breathing problems
- Withdrawal symptoms when Ativan is unavailable or withheld
When recognizing these symptoms, it is advisable to seek out professional support to begin the medically supervised plan to ease off of the Ativan and break free of the addiction.
What are the Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms?
Once the brain has adapted to the presence of Ativan, there will be a significant physical and psychological response when attempting to withhold the drug. Ativan withdrawal symptoms, such as rebound effects, are quite intense, which is why a trained detox team should oversee the detox and withdrawal phase of treatment. Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Hand tremors
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal cramping
- Mood swings
- Panic attack symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts
In general, withdrawal symptoms will present themselves within 24 hours, and the detox process may take 2-3 weeks to complete.
What to Expect in Ativan Detox
When approaching Ativan detox you will learn that it will be managed by a step-down schedule over a period of a couple weeks. A doctor will prescribe the tapering schedule and withdrawal symptoms will be carefully observed and monitored. This detox strategy helps to ease the person through the detox process as the body becomes accustomed to lower and lower levels of the drug. This gradual approach to withholding the Ativan also helps to control the withdrawal response.
According to an article published the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, about 40% of individuals who had developed an Ativan habit will experience severe withdrawal symptoms, with the remaining experiencing symptoms ranging from mild to moderate. The detox team will help to mitigate withdrawal symptoms with medications, such as flumazenil, and psychological support. These interventions are provided as symptoms emerge and continue until the individual’s symptoms subside.
Treatment Options for Ativan Dependence or Addiction
Once the detox phase is complete, the individual will enroll in an addiction treatment program that will provide the support and education to help them lead a life free of benzodiazepines. Treatment programs for overcoming Ativan dependence or addiction is available in either an outpatient or residential setting. The rehab format selected is often directed by the severity of the Ativan problem, and how long the individual has been using Ativan.
Recovery from an Ativan addiction is possible upon learning new ways to cope with stress. Therapy can help the individual better manage an anxiety disorder and change dysfunctional thought patterns. To accomplish these recovery goals, the individual will participate in a multi-pronged recovery program that contains these fundamental treatment elements:
- Individual psychotherapy. The one-on-one sessions will focus on evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). The therapist will also guide the individual towards examining possible underlying emotional issues, as well as to identify self-defeating thoughts and attitudes that only keep them trapped in the Ativan addiction cycle.
- Group therapy. Group counseling, family counseling, and couples counseling sessions are excellent opportunities to share your experiences with others who have similar challenges. This helps to foment peer support, which is helpful while going through addiction treatment as it makes participants feel they are not alone.
- Psychosocial skills. To overcome a reliance on Ativan, the individual will need to learn new coping strategies to use when encountering a stressful situation. Individuals will also be guided in designing their own relapse prevention plan with actionable steps for managing triggers.
- 12-step type groups. Recovery meetings, such as A.A., N.A., or SMART Recovery play an important supportive role in recovery. Recovery meetings provide a meaningful roadmap of benchmarks that incrementally help the client rebuild their lives. The meetings are a good source of social support as well.
- Recreational therapy. Nurturing the mind-body connection is an essential aspect of Ativan recovery. There are various experiential activities that offer individuals the opportunity to deepen their personal recovery journey. These activities include art therapy, meditation, equine therapy, and outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, beach walks, or visits to the gym. Physical activity and spending time outdoors is highly encouraged for stress reduction.
Natural Relaxation Techniques
Mastering relaxation skills in recovery can allow the individual to use natural methods to de-stress. Several of these techniques are introduced in rehab as part of the comprehensive treatment program. Holistic activities are readily available in online streaming or local community offerings. Some of the most popular stress reduction techniques include:
- Yoga.. Yoga helps to bring about a sense of tranquility through physical postures and movements, concentrated breath-work, and meditation.
- Mindfulness. Leaning how to control wayward, stressful thoughts is the basis of practicing mindfulness.
- Massage. For a special treat, enjoy a Swedish relaxation massage to help reduce muscle tension and eliminate toxins.
- Aromatherapy. Use essential oils in a vaporizer, sprinkled in the bath, or applied topically for relaxation.
- Exercise. Exercise helps reduce stress, improve mood, and tone and strengthen the body. Participate in swimming, cycling, or walking on a regular basis for a healthy way to de-stress.
Ativan addiction can be overcome through an integrated program that includes detox, CBT, and holistic solutions.
Capo by the Sea Premier Addiction Recovery Center Orange County
Capo by the Sea offers an effective evidence-based program to help individuals desiring to break free from an Ativan addiction. Capo by the Sea utilizes an effective mix of evidence-based therapies and holistic activities to help individuals overcome an Ativan addiction while providing upscale amenities. For more information about the pet-friendly program, please contact Capo by the Sea today at (888) 529-2114.